Lessons we can learn from poor schools to curb dropout rates

I listened to a colleague telling me how difficult it is to get teachers to come and teach in the Lavender Hill belt of schools. Farieda says that people think you will become a casualty of crime or that teaching in the area is non-existent.

Farieda, a Maths specialist, says even she would say she is teaching in Retreat at times because people are quick to even judge your competence when you say you are teaching in Lavender Hill.
Ivor, the Head of the school who is listening to this exchange, retorts rather abruptly : “ They have lost the plot… it is a privilege to teach in an area like Lavender Hill.” This is the training ground for teachers.”

I fully agree with Ivor. In fact, I think all teachers should do community service in poor areas so that they can identify fully with the challenges of educating our youth who are stuck in such webs. We will quickly learn how our own glib recipes of “how to apply Blooms Taxonomy” will become our own nightmare!

In these schools the odds are stacked like the Himalayan range against them. Creating a climate of high expectations is hard work.Sustaining enthusiasm, hope and building resilience in such schools demand herculean strength of character. You must have guts and immovable faith to keep going because you know the threats are ongoing, persistent and ever-present. Lose your focus and you lose a child. That is how high the stakes are.  

Here are three strategies that schools I serve are using to great effect:

1.   Celebrating Grade 8 learners for staying in school for a full school  year and having made it to Grade 9 this year
This tracking initiative is currently in place at Lavender Hill High school.  We attended a celebration ceremony specially hosted for these learners last week. Professor Jonathan Jansen, patron of the YES programme at Lavender Hill High school, presented his annual motivational talk to these learners differently this year. He specially flew in two singers, the piano and sound system for the event. This was a gift to the learners who deserved no less in his eyes. Brilliant audio-visual gesture to honour these learners.
Professor Jonathan Jansen with his rapt audience of learners, LHS staff and other guests

Singing to the crowd of learners who thoroughly enjoyed the chorals

2.    Placing an Awards ceremony in the middle of the year.

This is another sophisticated, strategic initiative employed by Lavender Hill High school. The timing of affirming and acknowledging the learners’ performance in the academic and co-curricular pillars is critical. Learners in such schools need constant, big affirmation signposts to keep them singlemindedly focused on being successful.

And, all the learners’ cheerleaders from various donor companies or individuals are there to show learners visually that they are amazing and their efforts are widely advertised and applauded.

Lavender Hill High Staff members with a few donors and Raphael Wolf, the Southern Mail Reporter
3.    Surrounding disaffected male learners with caring male educators

Levana Primary school has strategically placed two male educators with  a Grade 7 class of learners. This class has many learners who have multiple barriers ranging from academic to deep domestic and personal ones. They are difficult, resistant to displays of affection and vulnerable to substance abuse. I am told how these male educators understand that their critical role as surrogate fathers to these young men and that their communication ( language and body language) should be devoid of negativity. They are working relentlessly at building their broken spirits. Farieda says the boys are thriving in this circle of care and support and there are noticeable breakthroughs.  
Farieda and Ivor during our conversation of "learner needs"...

These strategies articulate the high expectations the schools have. They understand that their actions must breathe life into their missions and visions for their schools.  They make hope tangible, achievable…  

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